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Hey Everyone,

This has been a long time in the woodwork, but recently I discovered that out of everything (and there were a lot of possibilities), I really want to become a film composer. I was wondering if anyone has any tips/advice on how to go about it. I'm in a pretty small country (New Zealand), and I'm not so sure how helpful a three-year course would be in really equipping me for this (time, money, and where I am in the world - we travel a lot - are also considerations), and whether I'd actually get a job at the end of it. So I would really appreciate your insights and experience on this.

So fire away! :)

Cheers, and thank you very much in advance!

KahliaSkye

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There are quite a few YC members who are into film composing, so there's a good chance that they might give you their experienced advice.

Now, if you've got three years of study before you, all the better - you should take full advantage of them, not only to learn, but also to network. You'll probably run into someone who is already into films or who is connected to a film producer. But first and foremost, you'll want to hone your composing skills and be able to create sensible moods with your music, so this time is also on your side.

This same question has been asked several times in YC's forums, so I'd advice you to take a look to older topics and benefit from what was commented on this same issue. Good luck!

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I shall now reiterate what Austentine has stated. However, I shall provide advice for you:

  • Study and learn the proper skills: either through independent study or through schooling
  • Don't worry about film music for now. Write music in all styles and periods. You gain experience this way as a composer.
  • When you are ready, score study: start with the program music in the romantic period through now.
  • and practice, practice, practice....both in and out of film music.

Doing this will establish you as a composer who does not just write film music. For they don't just do they. and will attract studios better.

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Hi Kahlia, welcome aboard. And lovely name, by the way.

Your question is definitely among the more frequently asked ones, so run a search and have a look for some answers that have cropped up over the years, but since I work in media composition for a living I'll offer you some bullet points of my own too so you know what you're getting into. I wrote this as a blog post some time ago, but I'll include it here for you:

  • Learn your tools. Mas­ter them so they’re never in your way, learn their tricks, per­son­al­it­ies, and best practices.
  • Learn to work fast. Then learn to work faster.
  • Make an excel­lent demo reel show­cas­ing a vari­ety of styles.
  • Make an excel­lent web pres­ence to host that demo reel and inform­a­tion about your­self. Make it easy for people to Google you and find your music. Make it easy to listen to and share.
  • Send out 10 emails per day to young dir­ect­ors whose work you admire on You­Tube, to game design­ers whose work you admire, to folks you’ve read about in art­icles, to people you’ve found on for­ums ded­ic­ated to film mak­ing, gam­ing etc. Ten per day. And don’t stop until you start get­ting answers. For every 50 emails you send, you’ll likely get between 5 – 10 responses, of which 3 will be a polite no, one of which will be a “we’ll keep you on file”, and the other which might be a “maybe, let’s talk about it.”
  • While you’re writ­ing so many emails, learn to write well. Be con­cise, affable, pro­fes­sional, and cour­teous. The bet­ter your emails, the more responses you’ll get.
  • Respect your work; just because you’re new doesn’t mean you’re not worth money. You may not be worth $500/minute yet, but you sure are worth some­thing. Find a num­ber and try to get paid for your work, even if only an hon­or­arium. If you teach people that you think your work is worth noth­ing, then don’t be sur­prised when they keep com­ing back expect­ing you to work for free even when they get big­ger budgets.
  • Watch a lot of films, study a lot of film scores, and learn about the pro­cess of mak­ing films. Not your part, theirs. Find out about cine­ma­to­graphy, learn to recog­nize good edit­ing, refine your eye for good dir­ec­tion and good writ­ing. If you can hold a con­ver­sa­tion on their pas­sion with them, you’re already a more attract­ive pro­spect than the ignor­ant com­poser too caught up in his work to real­ize that other people exist and con­trib­ute to a film. Learn to under­stand the con­text within which you’ll be work­ing, in other words.
  • Learn about audio from other per­spect­ives: learn the phys­ics, learn the psy­cho­logy of musical influ­ence, learn the biases of cul­tural iden­tity. Learn about audio formats, about com­pres­sion, about deliv­ery formats, and about the pro­cess of imple­ment­ing music in a project.
  • Learn to man­age your time well. Fig­ure out how many pro­jects you can have on the go at once (if it’s just one then you’re in the wrong line of work), fig­ure out how many minutes of music you can con­sist­ently write per day in vari­ous styles (again, if it’s just one then you’re not going to be par­tic­u­larly com­pet­it­ive), and be dili­gent about stick­ing within the zone of com­fort that allows you to max­im­ize the qual­ity of your work on each pro­ject. But don’t stag­nate: let that com­fort zone expand as you get more experienced.

Now, to your education question I give a more direct answer: be careful. A certain sense of self-awareness is necessary to make a good decision here. While others have differing opinions, in my experience of working in the industry, I've never once been asked about my education nor had it brought up as a point of interest for any of my employers. Not a single time. And my degree is not in music, by the way. That doesn't mean you shouldn't spend those three years studying music, but it does mean that if you are a very capable independent learner then you could possibly spend the time better by studying something that will give you more generally applicable skills, or spend it seeking and finding work experience in the industry while polishing your musical chops independently.

How you decide to proceed is your call, but be aware that you — like the rest of us — are always behind the game. There's always someone faster, better, more talented, cheaper, etc. so in order to be competitive you really do need to jump into the game as early as you possibly can and work hard. Unless those 3 years are very tangibly benefiting the goal of making you more directly competitive (no one cares if you can analyze harmony in a piece) then you're wasting your time and squandering what potential for success you have. Which is very little, by the way. It's a cut-throat and unsupportive environment where you really do have to be brilliant to make your way; at music, at business, at working with technology, at networking especially...

The usual caveats apply here: I'm not trying to discourage you at all, I'm simply saving you some of the coddling bullshit that you may have heard from others; anyone who's told you that writing for film is easier than "real" concert music, anyone who's told you that talent and musical skills are all that matter, etc.

My recommendation to you is to find a local course that will welcome you into the very complex world of digital music production (working in a DAW, using sample libraries, synthesizers, etc.) and going from there — the technology side, in other words. THAT is the kind of stuff that can be very daunting to learn without some guidance. If there's nothing local, look into reputable online courses (Berklee, etc.) which offer quality instruction for a good price on your own time, which leaves you open to pursue work in the meantime.

Do your best to find yourself an opportunity to actually score a film. It's the fastest way to find out if it's what you expect and really want to do.

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Sign away your integrity as a composer and get ready to copy other composer's music :P

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Sign away your integrity as a composer and get ready to copy other composer's music :P

Cheap shot.

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Cheap shot.

I can say this because I am a major film music collector and love film music (you can make fun of something that you are a part of logic). I was making a quick joke about it.

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Wow! Thank you all for your thoughtful and very helpful answers! :D I am well aware that it will be a hard road, which is why I want to start now.

Hi Kahlia, welcome aboard. And lovely name, by the way.

Thank you very much!

Now I'm about to go do a search on film composing in the forums :musicwhistle: .

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I can say this because I am a major film music collector and love film music (you can make fun of something that you are a part of logic).

In before JB makes fun of stupid people.

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Berklee pres published a book on this subject. It may or may not help you.

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I think the more important question is, do you want to be a film composer because you have a passion for incidental music, or do you want to be a film composer because you think you can make money doing it?

Astonishingly - I agree with Chris on this one.

*holds up his nose while typing*

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I guess it's more a matter of the thing I'd most enjoy doing - I really love composing, and would just do it anyway, but in terms of a job, it would be the best one to go with - doing something I love doing. Out of all my options, all of them would probably pay poorly (or at least that's what I'd assume) - writer, photographer, singer, illustrator, costume designer... So obviously money is not an issue! If I wanted to get money, I'd definitely be smart enough to go for doctoring or law, but that's just not what I'm interested in. It's more in terms of reconciling what I love doing with what I should do as a job for practicality. So this would just give me a chance to explore composing on a much higher level. Mint! :D

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Plus I've always admired the music of composers like John Powell (The Bourne series, Paycheck) and Howard Shore for his epic LOTR score. I'd love to be in a position where I could create music like that.

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damn I love those two as well! Seems like John Powell has just recently been getting the cred he deserves these last few years though, in spite of his work always being top notch. Have you heard much Elliot Goldenthal?

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If I wanted to get money, I'd definitely be smart enough to go for doctoring or law...

People tend to believe law gives more money than it really does.

(BTW, I'm a lawyer myself) :P

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